DETROIT – Scott Nelson and his football coaches at U-D Jesuit are doing their best to deter specialization.
Nelson, a senior defensive back/receiver, was the sixth man on the U-D team that won the school’s first basketball MHSAA title, in Class A, this past spring. He started in the outfield on the school’s varsity baseball team as a sophomore – although he chose not to play baseball this past season so as to concentrate on football and basketball.
“When I grew up I just played sports,” Nelson said. “I stopped playing hockey to play football.
“I love competing. I love playing sports.”
U-D is an all-male private school located on the city’s northwest side. The academic curriculum is demanding, and most students who attend the Jesuit school choose to go there for that reason without the thought of participating in athletics. Some programs have thrived; the school's basketball, soccer and bowling teams have won MHSAA championships over the last 15 years, while the baseball, tennis and lacrosse teams have finished Finals runners-up.
It’s different for coach Oscar Olejniczak’s football program. Participation is a must for football coaches. They need players, and lots of them, to conduct practices properly. U-D has not been able to field a junior varsity team the past two seasons. Olejniczak has 44 on varsity, which is a workable number, but it is paramount that the good athletes in the school participate in more than one sport to help fill out the rosters.
“I encourage every one of our players to play two sports,” Olejniczak said. “If they play three sports, no problem, but academics is so tough here that two is all most can handle.
“When you play two sports … it helps them 100 percent. Each sport uses different muscles. It helps with hand-eye coordination.
“It’s a big mistake when you play one sport. People get into their ear. I’m sorry to say sometimes it comes from the coaches.”
It’s likely Nelson could have played any one of the three sports in college. In the end he chose football for the simple fact that he likes it more than the others. Nevertheless, he fully intends on playing basketball this winter. And why not? He’ll have a chance to start on a team that’ll once again be one of the state’s best.
“I’m biased,” Nelson said. “Multiple sports give you different skills. Basketball gives me that. You have to be in great shape to play basketball. On the basketball court, I’m not the best player. That helped me mentally. Playing with Cassius (Winston, now at Michigan State), people aren’t concentrating on you. That’s fine. Let me do my role. And that’s what I’ll do, and I’ll do my best. In football it’s different. I am an important part. With my coaches, they know I shouldn’t have a bad game. I put pressure on myself. I know I can make the big plays.”
Defensive coordinator George Harris knew that before Nelson did. Nelson played on the freshmen team before he was moved up to the varsity in time for the 2013 Division 2 playoffs. Not only did he dress, but Nelson was shocked to learn he would start that first playoff game against Warren Woods Tower.
“A senior was late for team prayer service,” Harris said. “We have rules here, and we suspended him for the first quarter. So I asked (Nelson) if he knew the coverages and everything. His eyes got real big.
“His football I.Q. was high for a young kid. He wasn’t afraid of the moment. That year we had a (preseason) 7-on-7 scrimmage and he had six interceptions in one game. I said, oh my goodness. He has a lot more confidence now. He’s more physical. That comes from just growing into his body. I can pull things out of his brain, and we can now talk the same language.”
The skills the other sports taught him undoubtedly made Nelson a better football player. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he’ll likely play safety in college. Northwestern is the lone school that’s recruiting him to play receiver. The other schools that have offered him a scholarship want him to play defense. Nelson has narrowed his choices down to five: Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
Nelson is coming off of what was a breakthrough season. He accounted for 21 touchdowns, which came passing (2), rushing (13), receiving (4) and on kick returns (2).
This season he was not expected to play quarterback, but he was pressed into service, due to injury, in the opener at Detroit Mumford. The Cubs led 2-0 late in the first half and prevailed, 23-14.
As far as his college future, Nelson is uncertain whether he’ll make his decision during the season or after.
There’s no hurry. The Cubs, which made the playoffs last fall losing to eventual Division 2 champion Detroit Martin Luther King 35-24 in a Pre-District, are optimistic that they’ll make a return trip.
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTO: Scott Nelson (10) eludes a pursuing defender. (Photo courtesy of U-D Jesuit/Brent Wilkerson.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)